3 Ways to Reduce Biased Information Sampling

Your business is rich in knowledge, let's put it to work.

As teams have become the predominant form of organization within businesses over the past 20-25 years, an inherent contradiction has also emerged. Teams typically possess an information advantage over individuals simply because of size (what six people know would likely be more than what one person knows, for example), but research during that 25 years has shown that teams typically don’t capitalize on that advantage.

Much of this goes back to Stasser and Titus’ 1985 study — now considered seminal in workplace organization literature — regarding a biased information sampling model. In short, teams tend to spend more time discussing elements that the entire team already knows (shared information) and less time discussing elements that are specific to only one member (unshared information).

Think about how something like this would play out with your friends. If you all were discussing what to do that night and kept talking in universal information — “We could go see a movie” — rather than specific information — “This movie we’re discussing starts at 7 p.m. at a theater 20 minutes away” — nothing would really get achieved. This happens at a much more tangible level in business meetings all the time. The information bias noted in most research, then, ultimately leads to circular discussions and incomplete planning, which limits the effectiveness of teams.

How Can You Share More Effectively?

A 2009 study from UNC-Wilmington and UCF expanded on the Stasser/Titus research and proposed three key ways to reduce biased information sampling:

  1. Structure team discussions
  2. Frame team tasks as intellective
  3. Promote a cooperative team climate

Some of the research basis for structured discussions came from the personnel/hiring space; in recent years, Human Resources departments have tended to move towards behavioral interviews, which are aimed at how the candidate thinks and how past experiences may influence future behavior. When solving problems as a team, the approach is similar: what knowledge do individual members have that could influence the future goal?

The word intellective above refers to instilling the idea of success in your team from the get-go, and the cooperative team climate can take many forms, from how people speak in meetings to how contributions are both recognized and assigned.

AnswerHub’s Role in Information Sharing

Let’s start with some basics: knowledge management may well be the future of business, and CEOs in 20 years may be discussing ROK (return on knowledge) as opposed to the now-standard ROI.

We fully believe that knowledge management is the future of how to get the most from your employees, then — but what can AnswerHub do in terms of the above research aimed at reducing biased information sampling?

1.  Structure team discussions. 

Interestingly, some of our own employees use AnswerHub to design the content and context of their work week. A manager will open a new thread about priorities and accomplishments for the upcoming week, and members of the team will add comments and update as they go. Because all the knowledge about what each team member is doing and prioritizing is now housed in one place, this system cuts down on e-mail traffic, excessive meeting times, and other aspects that can dampen the productivity of an organization.

2.  Frame team tasks as intellective.

The core of this idea is about instilling success from the beginning of a project or process; AnswerHub allows you to do this in a couple of different ways. Think about one of the larger concerns often faced in a work project: can the more junior members carry their load with less experience and knowledge than the more senior members? Instantly in AnswerHub, this is addressed; communities (including work project communities) can designate topic experts in specific areas, and questions within those areas can be routed to said expert. Anyone on a team/project can be confident that their question is getting answered by the right person.

3.  Promote a cooperative team climate.

In addition to the topic expert designation mentioned above, AnswerHub has features including a voting system (to determine best answers in the absence of a topic expert) and “ask-to-answer” (essentially, a direct question in need of a direct answer). We also incorporate real-world gamification — meaning that participation on these threads and conversations can lead to actual, day-to-day rewards as opposed to just online badges and the like — because we’ve repeatedly seen studies about how the gamification aspect of online knowledge communities can wither if there’s no connection to the real world.

Your business is rich in knowledge — shouldn’t you be leveraging it? AnswerHub looks to research and tries to tie the research back to our functionalities to bring your organization the best knowledge-management experience possible. That said, this is ultimately a blog post; seeing it up close and personal is the best way to understand everything that AnswerHub can do — and to compare it with other KM alternatives to make the best decision for your business.

AnswerHub can help your organization share information and knowledge. Download our ebook on why your team wants knowledge management.